Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Size Isn't Everything....or is it?

Size isn't everything...........I have once again spent a fair amount of time with somebody who is looking at buying a new flat screen TV. This client is in the process of renovating his new home. One of his goals is to have a nice home entertainment system including a flat panel TV and new speakers. He told me he was strongly considering a 60" LCD. He also told me that the couch (primary viewing area) would be about 14' away from the screen. According to AV industry best practices, this TV is either too large, or the couch is too close. Since he's not going to be knocking walls down to make the viewing distance work, then he should really consider a smaller TV (gasp!)

Here's the math folks: For full motion video/ entertainment content it is recommended that the closest seating position to a screen be about 1.5x the height of the screen followed by up to 6x the height for the furthest viewing position. By my calculations, he should be buying a 50" to 53" TV. If he were primarily viewing text and other detail oriented images (like CAD drawings, etc) that are static, the numbers change to a 4x height for furthest viewer.

So what, right? Hey, I'm an equipment reseller and you would think that selling a bigger TV means a bigger profit right? Maybe. Here's my take on it: get in the car with your significant other and go to your nearest cinema (if there is one!), pick the latest blockbuster action flick and go immediately to the front row and park yourself there with the silly 3D glasses on and an overpriced bucket of popcorn. After the show, tell me how you feel. Here's my prediction: you will be more tired than normal and possibly nauseous from sitting too close to the screen. Watching full motion video on a very large screen is exhausting! This is an extreme example and having a TV that's 6-10" too big for your room isn't going to give you the same effect, but it's similar.

Here's something else to keep in mind when buying that dream TV- viewing height. After sitting in the front row for an exciting film, your neck will be sore from looking up at an awkward angle and you may have whiplash from trying to see the whole thing all at once. If you mount your new TV over your fireplace mantle (very common!!) you will be looking up at that sucker until your physical therapist tells you it's not your mattress, it's your TV silly. The TV should be mounted in a fashion that you can sit in your favorite chair and look straight ahead at the center of the screen. That puts the center of your TV at home at about 32-40" or so. Go ahead - go look at your current TV's location. Maybe it's not your pillow's fault after all.............

So size does matter. I go out of my way to counsel my clients on sensible purchases even at the expense of my profit margins. Really. Ask any of my clients. Now go shop wisely!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just because you can touch it, doesn't make it good.

I've been in the pro-A/V business for a long time now. I've seen the death of the 3-gun CRT projector (yay!), the demise of VHS (hallelujah!) and the advent of DVD (OK, I guess) and the almost amusing battle between Blu-ray and hi-def DVD (long live Sony?). I was also witness to the birth of interactive technology.

The first interactive technology that has become almost as ubiquitous as Kleenex brand facial tissue was the "SmartBoard. The SmartBoard is as trademarked brand name of the one of the original interactive whiteboards made by Smart Technologies. I say ubiquitous because I have for years had clients call on me to provide them with a SmartBoard. What they really wanted was an interactive whiteboard. This technology is still quite prevalent, but it has been joined by fully interactive projectors (no fancy screen/ whiteboard required) and fully interactive flat panel displays that require no screen at all. All of these forms of interactive technology require a computer to actually do the heavy lifting, except in a few cases with the newer interactive LCD displays that have a built in PC thus becoming a stand alone solution.

All of these devices allow the user to directly interact with their presentation whatever that may be. What they won't do is make compelling the presentation itself. Over the years I've seen displays that simply roll PowerPoint slides for what many call the "death by PowerPoint" type presentation. These are far from compelling and oh-so easy to ignore. Definitely a "fail" in the presentation dept. I have seen folks take this approach with the newer interactive displays which allows a user to touch the screen to get the slides to advance faster or as bookmarks to a place within the presentation. Now we can control the speed with which the PowerPoint bores us to death.

This same paradigm carries over into the classroom where the SmartBoard grew up in much the same way that the Apple computer grew up. What I've witnessed here is one of two main scenarios. Either the instructor embraces the technology fully and manipulates their lesson plans and materials to fit best utilize the technology, or they use it as a screen for their un-interactive slides. There is a third type of instructor that uses the SmartBoard as a place to tape up posters since they refuse to use the technology at all. We don't need to discuss those folks.

I have spoken to many educators over the years espousing the the virtues of the interactive whiteboard in the classroom, but I always preempt my comments with the caveat that the technology will not make your presentation any more compelling than it is now. In other words, your old style of teaching will not engage the students anymore than it did before just because touching the board advances your slides for you. It is crucial that the curriculum dictates to the technology, not the other way around. The technology is simply a tool to allow the presenter/ instructor to do more potentially. A forward thinking educator should be able to take their old lesson plan and change it so that it engages the students by enlivening it in much the same way a motion picture can enliven the text of a novel. An educator can immerse their students in the topic by not only interacting with the topic materials, but they can also get the students directly involved at the board.

Recently my company, Norseman Audio Video Systems, worked with the University of Mass. Amherst to design and install an interactive display in the lobby of their Fine Arts Center as a way to better spotlight upcoming events in a way that was not possible with their old printed posters. We provided and installed a 65" touch enabled LCD screen. We then worked closely with the staff to find a solution for the content. Many clients would have been satisfied creating a "moving poster", i.e. another PowerPoint type slide show. These folks understood at the get-go that this would not lead to more ticket sales. They found a presentation software package called Prezi that allows them to build much more compelling pages with interactivity built in. In the future, there is talk about working this system into their ticket purchasing back office to allow patrons an enhanced buying experience. An interactive win, I would say.

So, to wrap up- just because you can touch it, doesn't make it good in and of itself. The presentation source should dictate the technology as a kind of cart-horse thing. If your presentation material is compelling, then people will come and if it is rich content, then they will touch it and be absorbed into your message. So dream big and let the technology help you.

sept 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

No substitute for experience

We are often asked: "What sets you apart from your competition?". We usually answer with the well rehearsed answer: "We provide exemplary service and exceptional attention to detail." While we mean every word, it always feels a bit pat and somewhat hyperbolic.

Or is it?

Yesterday, we received a frantic phone call from a contract services provider that was servicing one of their national contracts - a large retail chain, in malls across the country. The guy who called me was in Florida and had never set foot on the job site. He hires freelancers and small local companies to fulfill his workload. He never sees the work "his" people perform.

He was calling us because the site his installers had just completed was not functioning at all and could we rush out there and save his bacon. The store has a grand opening coming up this weekend and didn't want to be embarrassed. 

The system consists of 4 commercial grade monitors butted together in a long digital sign in the window of this store It had been dark since the installation was "completed" a week ago(!).

We agreed and hit the road. It was a 2 hour drive to get there. After about 5 minutes of acquainting ourselves with the system, we were able to change the input on the monitors and set up the signage tiling so that one image would be stretched out over the 4 monitors.

This is not rocket science folks. It was clear to me that the "installers" didn't even turn the system on before leaving or they would have seen that the system wasn't set up correctly.

While on site, we also removed the packing tape from the sides of the monitors and tied up the power cables. We contacted the main office in the mid-west to verify that the system was functioning to their satisfaction and we made a few more tweaks to the settings until they were satisfied.

Then we turned our attention to another monitor in the store that had also been dark since it was installed. I'm embarrassed to report that the monitor was installed cock-eyed. Upon further inspection, also not centered and the mounting plates were not fastened tightly to the back of the monitor.

We fixed that too.

None of these items took a long time to complete, so I often wonder why installers frequently leave before their work is completed? Seems pretty basic to us. We told our contact in Florida that if one of our field techs turned out work like this, they would receive one reprimand and then be asked to leave if it happened again.

So, hyperbole in the end? We don't think so. 

Hire locally and hire carefully.

Norseman Audio Video Systems 

-Gundy out